British Columbia

B.C. Votes 2017: Kamloops-South Thompson riding profile

It's long been considered B.C.'s ultimate bellwether riding, but it's been trending away from the NDP

It's long been considered B.C.'s ultimate bellwether riding, but there's been a trend away from the NDP

(Elections B.C.)

In advance of the 2017 B.C. election, we'll be profiling all 87 electoral districts in the province. Up today: Kamloops-South Thompson, one of five ridings in the Cariboo — and a seat that generally gets lots of attention come campaign time.

1. When you represent a bellwether riding like Todd Stone does, you certainly don't take any election for granted.

"I've gone back and looked through history," said Stone, explaining why the riding containing the southern half of Kamloops has always elected a government MLA.

"Even before there were political parties, the winner here has always sat with the government. It's always been regarded as one of those swing ridings that are closely fought … It's a microcosm for the province. It's one of those few ridings that's got a mix of the urban realities, but it's also a riding that's got a pretty significant rural component as well." 

2. One of the people who served in Kamloops before Stone was "Flying Phil" Gaglardi, who sat as minister of highways from 1955 to 1968 — and the current minister of transportation thinks his portfolio continues to suit a Kamloops MLA well.

"You talk to people in Chase and other small rural communities, or in Kamloops itself, part of being someone from the Interior, highways are so important to you," said Stone, whose riding includes the exchanges of Highway 1 west to east and Highway 5 north to south.  

"There's always feedback on the state of our highways, and the connections to communities all around us." 

3. The riding may be a traditional bellwether — but it's swung sharply to the Liberals in the last decades.

The Kamloops region's growth has been fuelled by the suburban and extra-urban communities to the south and southeast of the city core. Add in the fact that two Kamloops ridings changed from being split along east-west lines to north-south ones after the 2005 election, and in 2009 the B.C. Liberals had a very comfortable victory. 

But given the polls in 2013 and the riding's traditional status, people thought the NDP would win — instead, the Liberals increased their margin of victory by over 2,000 votes. 

"My pitch to my wife last time was we're 22 points behind in the polls, we need to support our friends, what could possibly happen?" said Stone, who was running a successful software company four years ago.

"This time, it's a totally different feeling. I don't think people perceive us to the underdog."

4. The NDP candidate is a former city councillor. 

Nancy Bepple took the party's nomination in November 2016. A staff member at Thompson Rivers University, Bepple has been active in community activities for over a decade, including nearly six years as a councillor.

5. But the Green Party is a current city councillor, too. 

Donovan Cavers ran unsuccessfully for the party federally in 2008 and 2011 — but he's had more success municipally, elected in both 2011 and 2014 to council. 

Cavers is one of several elected officials the Green Party is running who have been outspoken about environmental issues in their jurisdictions: and in Kamloops, that means being outspoken about the Ajax Mine, a proposed open-pit copper and gold mine that would be three kilometres next to an elementary school on the outskirts of the city. 

"Since I was elected, I've been working about half my energy towards raising awareness about this … proposal. Todd Stone has done next to nothing at the provincial level, and at the end of the day, it's the provincial government that has the final say," he said, explaining his prime motivation for running. 

6. Cavers' candidacy will be an interesting test for the Green Party.

While they've been able to crack 10 per cent of the vote with regularity on Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver ridings close to the coast, the party has struggled to break though in the Interior. 

But the Greens have made Kamloops an organizational priority this election, and it bodes watching if they can gain momentum here, with a candidate that already has some name recognition. 

"People are finally seeing that they have a viable alternative," believes Cavers. 

"At the end of the day, most people are voting for one [of the NDP or Liberals] because they dislike the other party so much, and in B.C. it's been like that for years … we have the opportunity to bridge the divide."

7. Where does the NDP do well?

The part of the city between Highway 1 and the South Thompson has always had patches of NDP support, particularly in the neighbourhood north of Pleasant Street Cemetery, where they received close to 60 per cent in some polling stations last election.

8. What about the Liberals?

While it reliably does well in the suburban neighbourhoods to the south of Highway 1, it does best in the extra-urban areas of Mission Flats and Barnhartvale to the south and east of the city's core, regularly receiving upwards of 70 per cent.  

9. Stone is hopeful for a repeat of the 2013 election. Well, except in one way. 

"Walking up to a door, no idea what's on the other side of it. It could be someone so incredibly gracious and appreciative of what you do, or it could be a really angry dog that's about to sicced on you," he said. 

He's not kidding about that second bit.

"I outran the first dog, but the second was able to latch on the bottom of my jeans. No flesh was broken," he said. 

"Some people are really passionate about their views on things."